NFL Combine 2011: Vernon Gholston Is the Reason the Showcase Needs Full Pads

Zack Pumerantz@z_pumerantzAnalyst IIIMarch 7, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Cam Newton participates in the vertical jump during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It is a showcase of college football’s top talent.

Potential NFL draft picks spend four weeks working with specialists to be in top shape for the five-day evaluation. NFL scouts and draft gurus use the scouting combine to assess the abilities of potential draftees. This often ends in disappointment with the draft producing consistent busts.

The combine has become a joke, an inefficient method for grading prospects. What can be done to improve the process?

What General Managers and scouts seem to forget is the difference between athletic talent and football ability. They can measure a prospect’s 40-yard dash, vertical leap, bench press and can give them a Wonderlic test, but this process strays from the significant attributes.

A football player should be judged by his performance on the field, by his aggression and vigor. The combine needs to be played in full pads, with prospects playing against professional practice squads. It may sound ludicrous, but the process undoubtedly needs to be modified.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the combine is how sure the scouts are of a player and how confident they appear when judging his future in the NFL following just an athletic showcase.

What needs to be learned from the combine is the fact that those who shine in shorts often fail in the NFL and those who have mediocre showings can often become NFL stars. There is no consistent formula. The real attributes scouts need to evaluate are heart and desire.

While it may be superfluous to mention him at this point, former New York Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston is the prime example of how skewed the combine process is. A workout warrior, running a 4.56 40-yard dash, Gholston became the only Top 10 pick since the NFL started recording sacks to not record a sack. With the Jets cutting him recently, he becomes a relevant case of combine fever, as scouts become enamored with a player’s athletic prowess rather than what is in his head.

In the 2009 NFL Draft, Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.32 40-yard dash, captivating the Oakland Raiders and causing them to fulfill their athletic freak fetish. They chose Heyward-Bey, over the much more productive Texas Tech University receiver in Michael Crabtree, with the seventh overall pick.

Don’t be fooled—there are a plethora of athletic freaks who become great football players. But that is irrelevant. The point here is that the combine needs to judge a player’s head and heart rather than only his athletic ability, in shorts no less. When will the athletes ever play football without pads?

There are players who play faster than their 40 times. Many overachieve after becoming late round picks with their sub-par combine showings and others underachieve after dominating the showcase.

Scouts should be more concerned with a player’s leadership qualities and how successful he wants to be in the NFL. A player with less athleticism and more heart needs to be the priority over he who has more athleticism, but less desire and hunger for the game.

While the combine has its excitement, especially when NFL analyst Rich Eisen runs the 40-yard dash, it needs to be significantly changed. Add full pads, place some professional NFL veterans in drills and test their motivation and leadership.

They can test the athleticism all they want, but in the end they still must prove their value during training camp and get the job done on the field. All that the combine has proven is that scouts may know less about a player after he works out. Perhaps a draft roulette would produce less disappointment.